Possibly one of the most prodigious and oldest abuses of power in U.S. democracy, extreme partisan gerrymandering may soon be finally resolved in the United States. For the first time in 13 years, the Supreme Court is hearing a case involving this archaic practice of extreme “partisan gerrymandering” in Gill v. Whitford.
Following the 2010 census, Wisconsin state Republicans, who held a majority in the state congress and in the governor's office, methodically redrew all of the congressional district maps in Wisconsin. Although the renewed districting observed historical precedent in design, it dramatically skewed election results and the Republicans all but congratulated themselves for victories in congressional elections yet to come.
Two years later, in 2012, the Democrats received 53 percent of the vote for state congress but only 39 percent of the congressional seats.
The Republicans accomplished the seemingly unjust redistricting by packing many dense Democratic voting areas into even larger Republican voting areas, so the Democratic votes would surely be wasted.
Moreover, the Republicans split large hubs of Democratic-leaning areas into smaller districts that were combined with majority-led Republican districts.
The question faced in Gill v. Whitford is not whether gerrymandering should subsist, as the concept is intrinsically partisan and necessary, but rather the extent to which it can be done before it becomes unconstitutional.
To limit or increase partisanship and party unity in a district is a normality of historical gerrymandering.
The practice of doing it so severely in order to waste the votes of a specific political party and in consequence have bodies of people unfairly represented by an opposing political party is unconstitutional and, quite frankly, unjust.
This issue is not unique or even original, as the Supreme Court has boiled down just about every gerrymandering case the same way. Hopefully the Supreme Court can get it right this time and apply a reasonable and uniform standard that regulates gerrymandering.
For example, the Supreme Court’s decision in 1962 for Baker v. Carr held that extreme partisan gerrymandering was unconstitutional and even justiciable when state legislators ignored the “one person, one vote” sentiment. When creating the legal precedent, however, the Supreme Court struggled with a formulaic solution to address extremism in political gerrymandering that infringed upon the rights of U.S. citizens.
In 1986, the decision for Davis v. Bandemer held that the apportionment schematic for the 1981 Indiana General Assembly unconstitutionally diluted statewide Democratic voting rights but, again, the Supreme Court could not come up with a clear standard for judicial review of partisan gerrymandering.
Gill v. Whitford will hopefully settle this debate and establish a standard, once and for all. The lead plaintiff in the case, Professor William Whitford, proposes a three-part test to determine the constitutionality of gerrymandering by analyzing the intent of remaking the map, its discriminatory effect and whether there is legitimate justification for the cartography.
The discriminatory effect of gerrymandering can be measured by the proposed efficiency gap formula.
This mathematical formula is designed to calculate the difference in wasted votes from both political parties divided by the total number of votes in an electoral race. The formula can be easily translated through its results, because if the number of elections won by a party is proportionate to the party’s electoral popularity, the gap will be around zero.
The decision for Gill v. Whitford will hopefully become the long-sought answer on how to uphold judicial impartiality while quantitatively assessing unfair abuses of power that limit the will of the people.
It is an injustice to allow the power of the people to choose their representatives to be negated by the representatives freely choosing the people.